by Aaron Gregory (Special Contribution to recruit757)
#4 Isle of Wight Academy @ #1 Virginia Episcopal School (2:00pm, Pope Stadium-Johnson Field at Virginia Episcopal School, Lynchburg)
#3 Fredericksburg Christian School vs. #2 Norfolk Christian High School (7:00pm, Powhatan Field, Norfolk)
#1 VIRGINIA EPISCOPAL BISHOPS (10.33 VISAA Rating)
Overall Record: 7-2
Conference Record: 4-1 Old Dominion Football Conference, (Old Dominion Tri-Champions with Christchurch, Blue Ridge)
Key Wins: 24-20 @ North Cross in Week 2; 20-13 vs. Christchurch in Week 11
Key Losses: 21-57 @ Nansemond-Suffolk in Week 6; 20-37 @ Blue Ridge in Week 9
THE SKINNY ON VES: The Bishops are the only new team in the bracket this year, and they made their presence felt in the ratings throughout the season. Starting their season 4-0 against the likes of North Cross, St. Anne’s-Belfield, Broadwater, and Atlantic Shores, the Bishops spent most of the year in the #1 spot of the Division III rankings. Losses to N-SA and conference foe Blue Ridge hurt the Bishops a bit, but their Week 11 upset of Christchurch vaulted them to an all-postseason home-field advantage. The available scoop on them is a balanced attack, leaning slightly in favor of passing. However, knowing they were up against an adept Christchurch defense, they came out in Week 11 with a new look, heavy on the run, especially the end around, which caught the Christchurch corners off guard. Junior Ronnie Stringfield leads the rushing attack, averaging over 100 yards rushing per game. Junior QB Tom Creasy also has a mess of receiving options to choose from, including Wyatt Slominski and Trevon Fields. While they shine beyond their years on offense, the young Bishops are a little more suspect on the other side of the ball, especially against strong running attacks. Their only shutouts of the year were against offensive train-wrecks, and they gave up a season high 57 points to Nansemond-Suffolk’s dominant ground game. While their youth gives them cause to look forward to the future, VES might be overmatched against the more experienced teams in this year’s D-III bracket.
#2 NORFOLK CHRISTIAN AMBASSADORS (9.88 VISAA Rating)
Overall Record: 6-3 (6-2 VISAA Recognized)
Conference Record: 4-1 Tidewater Conference of Independent Schools (TCIS Co-Champions with Nansemond-Suffolk)
Key Wins: 17-8 @ Bishop Sullivan in Week 6; 35-34 in 3OT vs. Norfolk Academy in Week 9
Key Losses: 12-33 vs. Nansemond-Suffolk in Week 4; 7-52 vs. North Cross in Week 11
THE SKINNY ON CHRISTIAN: The Ambassadors are becoming regulars in the top half of the D-III bracket, being the top seed the previous two seasons, and looking square for #1 this year as well. Only Virginia Episcopal’s upset of Christchurch bounced the Ambassadors back to second. The Ambassadors did not schedule as ambitiously this year, taking two BYEs and filling the hole left by Liberty Christian with the Central Virginia Disciples, a homeschool outfit from Richmond.
The Ambassadors have a proud tradition of strong offensive play and great pass defense, but in key games, they’ve felt the loss of five Division I recruits. The question mark this year, as in past years, is the defense. Norfolk Academy was able to air it out at will, Nansemond-Suffolk ran up three centuries worth of yards, and North Cross pounded this team in a Week 11 rematch of last year’s title game, with a balanced aerial and ground attack. Only Greenbrier Christian was shut out by the Ambassadors this year.
#3 FREDERICKSBURG CHRISTIAN EAGLES (9.22 VISAA Rating)
Overall Record: 8-1
Conference Record: 4-0 Patriot Football Conference (PFC Champions)
Key Win: 9-7 @ Glen Allen HS in Week 4
Key Loss: 14-26 vs. Paul VI in Week 8
The Skinny on FCS: The Eagles are back after their first appearance in school history in 2011. Again, their Week 11 BYE and their odd schedule left them out of control of their own destiny, with the other teams in D-III playing and jockeying for position in the final ratings.
As they were last year, FCS is a rush-oriented team, with senior QB Bret Barham completing half of his 54 passes this season for 463 yards. This year’s edition of the Eagles, however, has spread the wealth of their rushing attack. No player has averaged triple digits in yardage per game (last year, three Eagles did that). But six Eagles rushers, including Barham, have double-digit carries for double-digit yards per game. While not so impressive for your rushing leader, when you have six of them, it shows what opposing defenses are up against. Senior RB Hunter Griffis leads the attack with almost 700 yards on 98 attempts and 11 touchdowns, more or less on par with his production as a junior when the running duties weren’t nearly as spread out.
The Eagles’ defense has allowed 7 or fewer points in five of their eight wins this year, but as is a perennial complaint against Fredericksburg, the schedule is not great. While their defensive struggle with Group AAA Glen Allen both impressed and surprised, the rest of their wins, both in the new Patriot Football Conference and in Fredericksburg’s elective schedule, are not impressive. Roanoke Catholic, Quantico, and Hargrave were all wrecks this year, and conference foe Fishburne Military refused to play Fredericksburg, citing numbers and safety. What makes the Eagles such an enigma is that they have only faced one Division III team on the field all year: Atlantic Shores. Even with their formidable rushing attack, it’s tough to tell how they will do against the other three possible opponents they look forward to in this bracket.
#4 ISLE OF WIGHT CHARGERS (8.00 VISAA Rating)
Overall Record: 7-2
Conference Record: 3-1 Virginia Commonwealth Conference (VCC Runners-Up Behind Blessed Sacrament-Huguenot)
Key Win(s): 33-20 vs. Broadwater in Week 7; 48-16 vs. Atlantic Shores in Week 11
Key Loss(es): 20-39 vs. Bishop Sullivan in Week 1; 16-25 @ Blessed Sacrament-Huguenot in Week 9
The Skinny: This year’s edition of the Chargers has come of age before their fans very eyes. They were positively gaffe-prone in Week 1 against Bishop Sullivan, but settled down to win their next five. A loss at conference rival BSH (in which the Chargers made some old-habit mental mistakes) was the only remaining blemish on their regular season. This year, as last year, the Chargers controlled their own destiny. However, this year it was a matter of getting in the playoffs or not rather than what seed they would be. As a battered, but tough, Atlantic Shores team came to town, word was already out that North Cross was manhandling Norfolk Christian. A North Cross win plus an Isle of Wight loss would all but assured the Chargers of watching the playoffs from the stands. But this year, the Chargers came out gunning and won their last game decisively at home.
Junior QB Brandon Saxby had big shoes to fill; the IWA JV product had to replace Ben Epps who now plays for Christopher Newport. But Saxby answered the call well, completing 53 of his 103 passes for over 800 yards, the best QB performance in the VCC this year, and one could argue the best QB performance in all of VISAA Division III. He’s got enough targets to shoot for; senior TE Jackson Goodman and junior WR Gage Rogers each have double-digit receptions. Rogers has five TDs, Goodman has four, while brothers Alex and Aaron Fronfelter have added five and two respectively. Still, it shouldn’t surprise Charger fans that it’s tough to shine as a passer or a receiver in Dale Chapman’s offense. Senior RB Zeb Warnick has bested his stats from last year with over 600 yards on 86 carries. While Warnick has the raw drive to stay on his feet no matter how many hands are trying to drag him to the ground, the speed is in the feet of senior RB Matt Brummett. Brummett had 231 yards last year, but more than quadrupled that total this season, running up 960 yards on 115 carries. The rushing attack is less balanced than in previous years, but with the addition of Saxby’s passing, the Chargers are much more of a nightmare for defensive coordinators than in years past.
EXPECTED RESULTS: Neither the Chargers nor their opponent this week have defenses known for absolute shutdowns. Expect a shootout in that game with whoever gets the ball last winning it. Norfolk Christian will have to be uncharacteristically good on rush defense tonight to stay in it against Fredericksburg.
Virginia Episcopal 42, Isle of Wight 40
Fredericksburg Christian 38, Norfolk Christian 21
– Aaron Gregory